Category Archives: Metabolism

What you need to know about staying hydrated!

We have all heard the importance of hydration. We have all been told how important it is to stay hydrated in order to perform optimally. Advice surrounding hydration always seems extremely generic. Why is hydration so important and how should we actually hydrate? Very seldom is this discussed with athletes.

Hydration is important as water is involved in almost every bodily function. When the body functions optimally it can perform optimally. If it is not functioning well then any stress applied to it is magnified. That is the short explanation as to why we should hydrate. Most will understand basic biology and the concept of osmosis. Solutes and water diffuse across a membrane from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration. In regard to the body we have many forms of these membranes, the simplest being the membrane which surrounds all cells. Water is needed for many cell activities including cell metabolism, without which a cell would cease to function. The science behind cell metabolism is fascinating in itself but not all that practical for the majority of athletes.

For endurance athletes cardiac output is a critical factor. This is a product of heart rate and stroke volume (Blood volume ejected from the heart with each beat). Blood is mostly made up of water. In cases of dehydration blood plasma volume is reduced as water is excreted through sweating etc. Water and its role during sweating is the most effective element in heat management. If our plasma volume reduces there is reduction in overall blood volume as red cells become more concentrated in less plasma. This results in the heart having to work harder to pump enough blood around the body. This increase in workload is pointless additional stress for the body. It is purely a mechanistic result of water loss from the blood. It will cause a reduction in cardiovascular capacity and overall work capacity. Similar effects occur at altitude in an effort to combat reduction in oxygen pressure in the ambient air. The body increases hormones which excrete water to concentrate the blood, as less oxygen is being absorbed into the blood with the reduction in pressure.

The stomach is a key organ in the process of hydrating. Water is one of the few substances that can be absorbed by the lining of the stomach. In saying that water is also essential downstream in the small intestine for the absorption of other compounds ie. salts, sugars and amino acids. If we take in a lot of these compounds water must accompany them as a buffer in order for them to be absorbed. This is important when we look at things like sports drinks. These drinks often have high concentration of sugars and in some cases salt. This can be problematic for the rate of absorption of water. Athletes often complain of a feeling of fluid in the stomach after drinking large quantities of these drinks. That is exactly the case. Water must follow these compounds into the small intestine.

What this means is that water on its own is often absorbed faster than a sports drink. For short term exercise plain water is a better choice for rapid hydration. During longer bouts of exercise and in hot conditions many minerals and salts are lost from the body. The loss of minerals, salts and the consumption of glucose will have a significant impact on muscular and cognitive performance. In addition there is a change in osmotic gradients. This change may hinder the absorption of water. Drinking large amounts of plain water over long durations may cause potential hyponatremia (low sodium levels).

In many cases the advice given for monitoring hydration status involves examining the colour of our urine. Dark urine signifies dehydration. Lighter colored urine signifies good hydration. The concern here is that if one drinks lots of water without replacing salts and minerals, water will have problems being absorbed if salt levels are low. It can lead one into a false sense of being properly hydrated.

 

Hydration is critical to performance and must be a part of your routine.

An athlete must consider the circumstances. Short bouts of exercise, an hour long for example will not deplete salts and therefore plain water is a good choice. For bouts much longer and/or in heat, a marathon or long day hiking for example, a hydration formula is essential. By replacing salts and other compounds we can maintain a better level of hydration as well as providing essential compounds to cell function. In addition many compounds such as salt absorb better with sugars. A hydration formula should not just contain salt for this reason. Amino acids also help with salt absorption. If one uses a formula containing these other compounds they have the added benefit of replacing glucose for energy metabolism as well as reducing cell damage and aiding in recovery.

There are many commercially available sports drinks and formulas. Some are better than others. In many cases some popular brands are driven as much by taste as they are function. Many are too highly concentrated with sugar. In these cases they would be better if watered down. The level of solute concentration should reflect the conditions but in most cases weaker concentrations are less problematic. Less obvious, effective choices for hydration are targeted for a more clinical setting. Dioralyte and Pedialyte are specifically formulated for hydration without all the extras that you may find in some commercial sports drinks. One can also make a pretty decent homemade formula using natural ingredients. Water, salt and honey can form an excellent and simple hydration formula. Adding a little glutamine to the mix will also tick the box for amino acid presence.

 

Many great options but often designed for taste preference rather than hydration needs

A favorite of ours is the following. It has been tried and tested with excellent results.

1 litre of water

6 teaspoons of honey or maple syrup

½ teaspoon of table salt

 

In terms of timing it is important to constantly manage hydration. This means consuming fluids before, during and after exercise in accordance to the environment and type of exercise. Something to note is the effect of dehydration on digestion. Often athletes prioritize eating over rehydrating. In the case of multi day events this is not the best strategy. Poor hydration can lead to poor digestion and slow the process of refueling quite dramatically. Gastrointestinal stress can lead to poor sleep and other issues which have disastrous effect on performance. In the case of cutting weight for sport, water cutting is a popular method. An individual will purposely dehydration themselves in order to reduce overall bodyweight. After weighing in, if one does not rehydrate first it can be very difficult to consume food and digest properly before competition. Often a hydration formula and efficient hydration strategy will have greater benefits than eating after a weigh in. With that in mind hydration should always be priority number one. With added glucose it may also be a fast way to restore glycogen so it is beneficial in multiple ways.

Athletes need to be practical and efficient with every aspect of their performance that they can control. Hydration is extremely important but rarely discussed in practical terms. When one considers the circumstances and has some understanding of the process one can manage the situation much more effectively. That very much applies to hydration. A little bit of thought and practice with hydration strategies can make performance more consistent and training more effective.

 

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Warning signs of over reaching.

Dealing with a large number of athletes shows a huge amount of variation and diversity. Lifestyle and physiological factors are totally different from one athlete to another. Depending on lifestyle, an individual can have stress coming from any direction. Work, study, family, training, finance and competition are just a few of the factors that can cause stress. When an athlete trains they create stress. Normally this stress elicits a positive adaptation. An individual will recover to a point that is greater than before and they see progress. This is the basis of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) theory. If one does not recover they will not improve. If they continue to put their body under stress they will eventually begin to breakdown and see a loss of ability.

 

There are many warning signs of under-recovering. These often precede overtraining and can help one avoid getting into that situation. Overtraining, depending on the severity, can take weeks to months to reverse. That may be long enough to destroy a performance and potentially a career. It is important that an athlete be aware of the warning signs and monitor themselves to avoid overtraining. Many of these signs are well documented but others not so much. Tiredness, resting heart rate and loss of performance are the typical and most obvious indicators of over doing things. A certain amount is okay and when followed by adequate recover one can see great adaptation. Overreaching is a less severe version and can be quite beneficial when planned for appropriately. The issue is that some athletes will push the boundaries here. Some believe they are capable of more than they are and can often do themselves a disservice as a result.

 

It is extremely common for athletes to ignore tiredness and continue to build training volume. They also have a tendency to increase volume when they see a dip in performance as it is the most obvious solution to them. This creates an environment for them in which overtraining can easily occur. When monitoring for overtraining it is important to look for some less obvious signs. Some pretty common things can be used as warning signs.

1) Mood swings.

Changes in mood or personality are pretty obvious signs of stress. The term “hangry” has become a buzz word around athletes. When an athlete undereats or skips a meal they often become quite narky and sensitive. Being hungry can make some athletes appear angry. This “Hangry” state can highlight that their management of nutritional factors is poor. In addition when athletes undereat they can appear to be mildly depressed. In some cases teary and emotional athletes can highlight they simply are not eating enough to recover fully. Lightening training load and a few solid meals can produce have a massive impact on an athletes mood and personality.

Loss of motivation or being unusually moody can be a sign of fatigue

Loss of motivation or being unusually moody can be a sign of fatigue

2) Minor Illness

If an athlete is constantly coming down with common colds and “sniffles” it can be an obvious sign their body is dealing with stress. If training loads are high and they are not recovering fully the immune system becomes suppressed. Undereating for training can create this scenario pretty quickly and what is considered a common occurrence depending on time of the year may actually be a sign of things being out of balance.

3) Irregular Periods

For female athletes, particularly those in endurance sports, this can be a very obvious indicator of stress. Athletes experiencing irregular or missed periods should seek medical advice to rule out underlying conditions. In many cases high energy demands and poor nutritional management can be the cause.  Excessive stress either physically or emotionally can also be a cause. Menstruation can be an excellent indicator of overall wellbeing and balance between stress and recovery.

4) Aches and pains

Some amount of pain is normal and common for athletes training intensely. However, constant aches, pains and tightness can be a sign that they are placing the musculoskeletal system under too much stress and volume. Without adequate recovery it remains in mildly damaged state. Tension can also build up in the muscles if not allowed to recover fully. New training programs and sudden increases in volume can create a little bit of discomfort short term but if it persists it may be a sign that rest is needed.

These signs are extremely common and often pretty sensitive to training and stress induced through daily life. What is important to remember is that progress is the number one goal. If an individual does not recover then they are simply wasting time and effort. Keeping a close eye on the above factors can give them a very tight accurate control over their bodies. They can be smarter and more efficient athletes if they take advantage of these indicators and learn their bodies. Successful athletes will have a great knowledge of their body and how it reacts to lifestyle and training influences. If any athlete is concerned about anything discussed it is always wise to seek medical advice to ensure there are no underlying problems. Be aware that many ailments can give clues as to how the body is coping. In many cases they can be used to an athletes advantage when they are typically seen as a nuisance.

 

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Fats and sports performance

The last category within the macronutrient group is that of ‘fats’, a broad term used to describe a wide range of foods including meats, dairy, nuts, seeds, soybeans, peanuts and avocados. This particular food group is an essential component of our diet and a major source of energy in everyday life. However, it can also be publicized as a problematic nutrient with excessive intakes linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and some forms of cancer.

As an athlete, it can be easy to forgo of the importance of fats –we are constantly bombarded with information about carbohydrates and protein and as a result fats are left in the dark. However, fats are a crucial source of energy and insulation for the human body. Whereby carbohydrates account for the majority of energy during short duration or low intensity exercise, fats make up the most part of energy during longer or more intense exercise sessions (marathons). Secondly, when we are not receiving enough energy from our diets, stored fat in the form of adipose tissue is broken down to supply the necessary energy. It can be considered a ‘survival’ nutrient for mankind. Fats are also important in the transport of essential vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) around the body and can protect our internal organs from damage and trauma sustained during sports injury or collision.

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Fats are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen elements. They are insoluble in water and dissolve only in fat solvents. They are made up of building blocks called fatty acids, which are classified as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated depending on their chemical structure. Some of these fatty acids are essential to an individual’s diet whereas others can be detrimental to health if too much is consumed. All types of fat provides about 9kcal/g which means that too much of any type of fat can lead to weight gain. The Department of Health states that fat intake should not exceed 35% of our total energy intake and saturated fat should not exceed 11% of total energy intake from food. Unfortunately, the Irish population is consuming foods high in saturated fats such as fried foods as well as cakes, biscuits and pastries and this is contributing to the widespread dilemma of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Types of Fats

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are found in animal sources such as meat, egg yolk, yogurt, cheese and butter. They are also found in some vegetable oils including coconut and palm kernel oil. This type of fat is normally solid at room temperature and is the biggest cause of high LDL levels (bad cholesterol) leading to problems such as heart disease and stroke. It is, therefore, suggested to limit the amount of saturated fats to no more than 10% of your total daily calorie intake.

Trans Fats

Trans fat is another type of fat that is found naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products but much larger amounts are being produced in the production of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats have been shown to have a bigger adversarial effect on blood cholesterol levels than saturated fats. It is therefore important to always read the back of pack labels and determine the proportion of trans fats in products before purchase.

 

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What are healthier fat choices?

 

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats on the other hand are normally liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help to reduce cholesterol levels and are found in vegetable oils such as olive, rapeseed and sunflower oil.

An essential component of polyunsaturated fats are ‘fatty acids’, which are needed biochemically by our bodies and can only be made available to us through diet. They are, therefore, described as ‘essential’ fatty acids as they can only derived from external sources. These fatty acids are used to build specialized fats ‘omega 3 fatty acid’ and ‘omega 6 fatty acid’, which are important in the normal functioning of all body tissues. Omega 6 fatty acids are very common in the modern diet and can be found in most vegetable and nut oils as well as meat and dairy. Omega 3’s, on the other hand are more difficult to attain and can be found in foods such as oily fish (salmon), flaxseed, soybeans and walnuts. In 2009, the EFSA published its recommendations for essential fatty acids intake;

 

  • Omega 3 fatty acids – an intake of 2g/day of alpha linoleic acid (ALA) and 250mg/day of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
  • Omega 6 fatty acids – an intake of 10g/day of linoleic acid (LA)

 

On the flip side, fat intake can also be correlated with weight gain. High consumption of dietary fat is associated with increased levels of body fat and obesity. Fats are the densest source of energy, supplying about 9 kcal per gram. This is more than double the number of calories provided by protein and carbohydrates per gram. Therefore, the key to successful weight loss is low dietary fat consumption whilst maintaining adequate protein and carbohydrate intake.

As a general rule of thumb, we should try and cut down on the amount of saturated fats that we consume and opt for healthier foods containing unsaturated fatty acids like avocados, nuts and fish. These foods comprise a typical Mediterranean diet, which is vastly linked with a lower rate of heart disease. Also try to incorporate vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower and rapeseed oils over those rich in saturated fats (butter, palm, coconut oil) into your diet.

Fat and Sports Performance.

As already stated fat provides the highest amount of energy out of all the nutrients – 1g of fat equals nine calories. This calorie density makes fat one of our largest energy reserves. When oxidative metabolism is possible we use fat for energy quite well. However, as soon as lactic acidosis begins to occur our ability to utilize fat as an energy substrate diminishes significantly. This occurs much earlier than many of us realize. Building oxidative capacity is, therefore, essential for endurance athletes or where competition lasts more than 40 mins. They simply need to be good fat burners in order to maintain work output for longer durations. Our fat stores will last much longer than our glycogen stores making it essential for performance in certain endurance sports.

 

Endurance athletes rely on the energy yield of fats and the greater stores within the body.

Endurance athletes rely on the energy yield of fats and the greater stores within the body.

 

However the power of fat as a source of energy for exercise takes time and is dependent on a number of factors; it is slow to digest and can take nearly 6 hours to be converted into a usable energy. The body also needs to break down the fat and transport it to muscles before it can be used as the body’s primary energy source. In order to truly benefit form fat consumption, athletes should consider carefully planning when they are going to eat fat, how much they will eat and the types of fats they’ll consume in the lead up to a game or event.

 

By Christina Higgins & Ross Hamilton

 

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Protein and training

Introduction

In the past couple of years, there has been a complete shift in Irish people’s attitudes towards sports supplements along with a noticeable surge in the popularity of bodybuilding and powerlifting. According to Bord Bia Periscope 2013, Irish people think of themselves as one of the healthiest nations in Europe – pretty ironic considering our rising levels of obesity. There has also been an explosion in the Health and Wellness Trend in Ireland in recent years. According to one EuroMonitor report titled ‘Sports Nutrition in Ireland’, there has been a 7% increase in Ireland’s sports nutrition industry with expectant continued growth over the next couple of years. With this upswing in the popularity of gym-going and strength training has brought a reciprocal increase in protein supplement use in the form of protein powders, bars and Ready-To-Drink (RTD).

Based on this premise, Irish companies are constantly searching for ways to tap into this lucrative protein sector with Avonmore having recently launched a popular protein milk and Glanbia having acquired the US protein bar company ‘ThinkThin’ for a humble $217 million only last month. These changes and developments in the Irish supplemental market typify the growth and success of this protein category which in my opinion will only increase with time as the consumer becomes more aware of the importance of protein in not only sports performance but also as research backing its effects on muscle synthesis and immune function grows.

What is Protein?

Protein is generally considered one of the most important food groups for human survival. Every day our body changes as cells grow, divide and die – these processes depend entirely on protein to supply the vital building blocks to our cells. These building blocks are scientifically known as ‘amino acids’ and when joined together form a ‘protein’. There are two types of amino acids in the body; ‘essential’ amino acids, which cannot be formed by the body and must be obtained from dietary food sources; and ‘non-essential’ amino acids which can be produced by the body itself. Protein coming from animal sources provides the majority of ‘essential’ amino acids. However, plant based proteins (seeds, lentils, vegetables and grains) may not offer all of these essential amino acids. It is, therefore, highly recommended for all vegetarians and vegans to eat a wide range of plant based foods to ensure that they receive all the essential amino acids needed to generate proteins in the body.

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Turkish eggs on granary bread with spiced chick peas and spinach.

How much Protein do we need?

The recommended daily amount (RDA) of protein for healthy adults is 0.8g/kg of body weight per day but this is viewed as the minimum amount for the average sedentary adult. Many factors need to be considered when calculating the optimal amount of dietary protein for individuals that exercise daily such as the protein quality, energy intake, carbohydrate intake, type and intensity of exercise and timing of protein intake. Protein recommendations are generally calculated based on a nitrogen balance assessment and amino acid tracer studies. Nitrogen balance technique involves assessing the total amount of protein that enters the body through food consumption and the total amount of nitrogen expended.

It is recommended that if you exercise regularly or participate in more than 1 hour of moderate to high intensity exercise several times a week you should be consuming more protein than what is advised for a sedentary adult. The International Society of Sports Nutrition states that an active person should eat between 1.2 – 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight on the days that you exercise.

  • Those that participate in endurance activities (swimming, biking, running) should try to consume 1.2 -1.4g/kg of protein.
  • Whereas those involved in strength activities (weight lifting) should aim for 1.4 -2.0 g/kg of protein.

We are constantly being bombarded these days with articles in the Daily Mail and online on how a high protein diet is touted as unhealthy and can even lead to medical issues such as chronic kidney failure. Some have even cited that high protein diets can enhance the leaching of calcium and heighten an individual’s risk for osteoporosis. However, both of these theories are still unclear as there is no substantial evidence to suggest that protein intakes within the 1.2-2.0g/kg of body weight range will harm or even have an adverse effect in healthy, active individuals.

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Post-gym protein smoothie- packed with berries, banana and a scoop of whey protein.

How to Up Your Protein Intake from Food Sources?

Although there are multiple protein supplements available in the Irish market, many athletes would rather eat whole foods to meet their protein needs. For instance a sedentary woman weighing 127 pounds will need about 46 g of protein per day – this can easily be achieved by eating a 3 oz chicken breast, 1 egg, a handful of almonds and a slice of cheddar cheese.

 Here is a list of common protein foods that can easily be consumed on a daily basis;

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Protein Supplements

When it comes to protein, most of us don’t need supplemental help and can easily meet our needs from a well-balanced diet. However, those that have above average protein needs and find they are not achieving the desired effects from exercise should consider protein supplementation.

The most important issue to consider when purchasing a protein supplement is its quality. This is the main reason why scientists came up with the ‘protein digestibility corrected amino acid score’ (PDCAAS) which tells you exactly how complete the protein is and how easily digestible it will be in order to attain the necessary amino acids. This scoring system rates protein from 0 to 1. For example egg whites actually have a score of 1 meaning they are fully complete in the 9 essential amino acids and are easily digested and absorbed. It is important that your protein powder supplement should score as close to 1 as possible.

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  1. Whey protein exhibits the highest PDCAA out of all the protein powders because of its high levels of essential and branched chain amino acids to encourage muscle building during strength training. If you are looking for a protein that will help increase muscle and size then whey is the best powder. It is inexpensive and a high quality product that will reach your muscles faster leading to desirable results.
  2. Casein and soy protein isolate are also considered high quality sources and score with a value of 1.00 on the PDCAAS scale. Soy protein is an excellent alternative for vegans who can’t take whey or casein.
  3. Plant based proteins such as pea (0.69), rice (0.47) and hemp (0.46) score lower on the PDCAA scale as they don’t consist of all 9 essential amino acids. For this reason they are normally mixed together in a plant based protein supplement.

What about Protein Bars?

The main difference between protein powder and bars is that bars generally contain more calories, carbs, fat and salt for any given amount of protein. However, bars also provide a quick and easy way of getting that post workout protein snack into you. I would generally advise to always read the back of protein bars and see what exactly is in each product – you may be surprised by the hidden fibers, sugars and artificial sweeteners. I, personally, love protein bars until I realized a few years ago that I was gaining weight fast and read the back of one bar and saw that one bar was nearly the equivalent of an entire meal! However, bear in mind that these bars are manufactured for different types of exercise – choose higher carb bars (20g per serving) when you participate in higher intensity aerobic activities (running, swimming and cycling) and opt for lower carb bars (< 20 grams) for non-aerobic exercises.

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Author: Christina Higgins

Joining the Hamilton Sport team, Nutritionist Christina Higgins!

Hi my name is Christina Higgins and I am a recently qualified Nutritionist after studying Human Nutrition in University College Dublin. I first studied BESS in Trinity College Dublin but realized after graduating that I had to pursue my lifelong interest in food, which has brought me to where I am today.

I am now working as a consumer nutritionist in the fresh produce industry where I have the opportunity to reach out to both school children and students and demonstrate to them the necessity of a healthy diet and really how simple and budget-friendly it can be. I am a complete advocate of healthy eating with no fuss attached. I don’t believe in diets of any form unless a certain disease or medical condition warrants it. Instead, I believe in good, clean and healthy dishes that are easy to whip up and hassle free. In recent months, I have also set up an Instagram account called ‘Miss Nutricious’ which has allowed me to showcase how easy and delicious eating healthily can be, be it cooking in the comfort of your own kitchen or dining out with friends. That being said, I also believe that balance is really everything and that it is in fact healthy and normal to break out and enjoy a chocolate bar or dessert every once in a while.

In terms of my background in sports, I was never the ‘sporty’ kid or student. Having poor eyesight and refusing to wear glasses obviously didn’t help matters. Instead, I dabbled in tennis, hockey, sailing, cycling and even dance. Even though, I never excelled in any of them, I always enjoyed that feeling of being outdoors and that adrenalin rush after sailing a race or playing a tennis match. It is only in recent months that I have started training at my own pace. I’ve never been a huge fan of the gym so I’ve taken my exercise to the outdoors where I’m slowly beginning to see a transformation in both my endurance and overall physique. I now understand how important it is to exercise and the ‘feel good’ factor you benefit from afterwards. Needless to say, if I can manage to get to some sort of adequate fitness level, really anyone can.

Overall, I hope that my background in nutrition and passion for good food will encourage others to adopt a healthier lifestyle. As that cringe saying goes ‘life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon’. In summary, take everything slowly, any changes you make to your diet or exercise is not going to happen overnight but if you make an honest attempt at doing something, I promise you’ll reap the rewards.

All the best,

Christina

How Muscle can help you burn fat!

This article is geared a little more towards female training but equally applies to men. Traditional weight training is linked with the development of bulky muscles, useful in contact sports where body mass and increased strength can be very beneficial. A muscular physique is usually associated with as being masculine and heavy. As a result many females avoid weight training like the plague. They favour cardio training as a means to stay fit and keep body fat down. In many cases female athletes have had great success reducing bodyfat as caloric expenditure did lead to fat loss.

Most people want to achieve a “toned” physique. They often believe weight loss to be the main mechanism in which to achieve this desired look. Instead they simply achieve a skinny flat appearance lacking in shape. This can be identified in the controversial zero size model physique. Recently people have realized that shape comes from muscle underlying the fat. Simply losing fat does not create the physique one may desire.

This physique is not quite what most people look for. It is the product of fat loss with little lean muscle!

This physique is not quite what most people look for. It is the product of fat loss with little lean muscle!

The good news is that building muscle helps to burn fat. Lean body mass is made up of muscles, bones and ligaments. Muscle is considered a metabolically active tissue. This means that it is a consumer of energy. The more muscle you have the more total energy expenditure you will create. In addition weight training, depending on intensity, can burn just as many calories in a given time period as cardio training. The bonus is that when recovering from weight training we consume extra calories as muscle cells repair and recover. Growth and repair of cells has an energetic cost. Thus our overall metabolism increases helping to keep bodyfat levels down

For those worried about the bulky physique, they must consider the amount of training required to build muscle. It is a relatively slow process to gain muscle. Most experts will agree that 1 lb increase per week of lean muscle mass is about as good as one can expect without chemical assistance. This increase is also not usually consistent; over a year one may not expect to gain 52 lbs. There is also an increased water content in the body which may account for extra “scale weight” which is not necessarily muscle. The point is that athletes spend years actively trying to gain muscle and in some cases bulk up. It requires a lot of hard work in the gym and in the kitchen. Genetics also play a major part in how easy it is to gain muscle. One will not simply become bulky because one lifts weights. It will require a very focused effort over a long period of time.

The main lesson here is that building muscle is a key component in achieving a lean aesthetic physique. Many may find their weight loss can stall when using only cardio methods to lose fat. This is because your body can adjust its metabolism to meet energy intake. Focusing on building lean muscle tissue and supplying the nutrients required to do so can influence a shift towards body fat utilization. While diet is a key component, anyone looking to lose weight or “Tone up” needs to put time into developing lean muscle. It has great benefits to overall lifestyle as well as appearance. It will help make daily tasks much easier as you will become stronger and more efficient. Body composition is often much more important than body weight when it comes to physique.

Many female and male athletes are subject to body mass restrictions and targets. Often they avoid weight training as it has been traditionally stereotyped as a weight gain strategy. This is not in fact the case. It can be the tool that allows an athlete to achieve their desired weight while actually having a positive influence on their performance. One should establish whether or not they need to lose weight or in fact change their body composition. In the case of physique, muscle provides the shape and fat loss allows the shape to be displayed. Never neglect the benefits of weight training and lean muscle mass.

Complexes for fat burning!

There are many solutions for burning fat. The general theory is the energy balance, in the form of calories in, calories out. An energy or calorie deficit will undoubtedly lead to weight loss. The question is, will it create fat loss? Weight loss and energy balance are tricky as we assume that weight loss is in the form of fat. This is not always the case; energy usage is fairly unselective meaning it will burn both fat and reduce muscle. In fact, some suggest that during chronic energy deficit, muscle may be lost as part of a survival mechanism. The body adopts a philosophy where it looks to reduce energy consumption via muscle and retain energy stores ie. fat. This leads to a reduction in overall bodyweight but a retention of body fat.

In order to lose fat we must create a mild calorie deficit so as to avoid this survival mechanism and promote or at least retain lean muscle. One great method is through the use of complexes. Complexes string together a number of resistance exercises as a form of superset. The involvement of multiple muscle groups with little rest creates a large metabolic demand. The resistance aspect also promotes muscle adaptations and potential hypertrophy. By switching through movements one can use a relatively heavy weight as local muscle fatigue is reduced. Overall it ticks the boxes of what we try to achieve when looking to specifically target fat.

A complex can be relatively short and completed within a 10minute timeframe. It can be used effectively as a finisher style exercise at the end of a regular training session. It can also be combined with some traditional cardio to create a conditioning session.

Here are some examples of complexes.

Pure Complex

  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Barbell bent over row
  • Hang clean
  • Push press
  • Back squat

Rotate through the exercises for one rep and repeat 6 times for a full set

Conditioning Complex

Beastly circuits are a popular form created by ex Allblacks coach Ashley Jones

  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Barbell Row
  • Power Snatch
  • Overhead squat
  • Back squat

Complete 6 rounds then 3minutes on treadmill for one total set, repeat for 6 sets with no rest.

Excellent example of a barbell complex (Courtesy of www.defrancostraining.com)

Complexes are great for promoting lean muscle and muscular endurance. The fact that they burn a lot of calories is a major bonus. They should be used to promote fat burning where strength levels are a priority. Traditional cardio is also a popular method but may not support strength levels as effectively. Complexes can be a useful tool for athletes who must improve body composition but also maintain strength levels. They can also be used as a conditioning tool as it supports muscular power endurance which is beneficial to many sports.

A coach can be quite creative in structuring complexes but it must be noted that technique can be compromised under fatigue. Simple multi joint exercises are most effective; Olympic lifts and gymnastics should only be attempted with technically advanced athletes. They are an effective tool which can cover a lot of needs in a fairly time efficient manner.

HIIT, fat loss and muscle!

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a very popular training method. When used correctly it effectively improves cardiovascular conditioning, burns fat and promotes new muscle growth. In addition a relatively short HIIT session is sufficient to elicit substantial performance gains. Like any training method, understanding the basic physiological principles will make a big help to using it effectively. This article will explain a bit about this type of training and some of the pitfalls to watch out for.

HIIT is popular because it is time effective. An individual can burn a lot of calories in a short space of time. As the name implies it is an intense form of exercise. Our energy systems function on a simple mechanism of energy charge. The rate of energy (Adenosine Triphosphate/ATP) utilization in the muscle cell must be matched by an energy supply system. Slow rate of energy expenditure during low intensity work is supported by oxidation. Oxidation supplies a lot of energy but at a slow rate. High intensity work is supplied by the glycolysis and phosphate systems which have a much faster supply. Supply must meet the demand. There is often a slight lag between utilization and supply. This means that even during rest intervals and post exercise energy consumption is still elevated. In simple terms our metabolism is increased and we continue to burn more calories than at normal rest conditions. For this reason even though a 20min session burns, for example 500kcals, energy expenditure is raised throughout the day. A low intensity session lasting one hour may burn 800kcal with minimal elevation in metabolisms for the rest of the day. For this reason HIIT may actually burn more calories on a daily basis. This is why it is so effective at fat burning.

HIIT can also be performed with a strength endurance element, supporting a leaner physique!

HIIT can also be performed with a strength endurance element, supporting a leaner physique!

In addition, the power output which is produced during the work period of HIIT is high. Higher power output during work periods are often effective in improving your conditioning. It also helps maintain strength and power simply by utilizing larger motor units. The main issue to consider with HIIT relates to energy supply. If we cannot supply the cells with adequate energy then they become damaged. This is known as metabolic stress. A certain degree of metabolic stress or damage can be reversed. This is what promotes new muscle growth. Moderate metabolic stress during training can, at times, be quite effective for promoting hypertrophy.

If we place too much stress on the muscle cells the damage can be irreparable. The cells will begin to die. When this happens on a regular basis muscle wastage can occur. It also places the body under larger amounts of general stress which will begin to impact on our immune system. There is a large list of potential health implications that this can eventually lead to.

Preventing this scenario is relatively easy but not always something we think about. One of the determinants to energy supply is our energy store. In the case of HIIT we need adequate stores of glycogen for an adequate supply of energy. If we do HIIT in a fasted state we are putting ourselves under severe metabolic stress, as there is little energy supply to fuel it. In addition the lack of energy will dramatically reduce performance so conditioning benefits may also be lost.

The take home message is this. Fuel up for intense exercise! Low intensity exercise can be done in a fasted state as the oxidative system works effectively to provide fuel. With intense exercise such as HIIT style training, you must have some glycogen stores or glucose in the bloodstream. If you are in a totally fasted, glycogen depleted state then consume some simple sugars close to training. By doing so you can maintain high intensity and reduce cell stress. You will still achieve an elevated metabolism that promotes fat burning. You also place the cells under just enough stress to help promote hypertrophy

It is important to understand training methods as the smallest oversight can cause more harm than good. HIIT is an effective tool but if it is not adequately fuelled it loses a lot of its benefits. It is a popular successful way to train and should be used in any program. Like any training method the process is the important part. It needs to be considered and managed properly in order to see the full benefit.

Fat loss for athletes!

Body composition and body mass are important for most sports. The success of an athlete can rely heavily on falling within the norms of their sports, especially where a weight category is involved. Nutrition and training are both vital in the role body composition and weight management. I will not discuss dietary strategy as it is not my are of expertise. Instead I will discuss the training considerations and strategy.

Step one is for an athlete to identify whether he needs to reduce bodymass (weight) or reduce body fat. Bodymass deals directly with bodyweight on the weighing scale with no concern for body composition. Body fat deals with body composition with possibly no influence on overall bodymass. When reducing body mass the main focus, is to create a consistent calorie deficit. How one trains doesn’t really matter as bodymass will decrease over time if calorie expenditure exceeds consumption. The issue is that this reduction will not be selective in terms of tissue loss. Both muscle and fat tissue will be lost but this is not such a good thing. In many cases an athlete will need to retain as much lean mass as possible and may even need to increase or at least maintain it. This creates a more complicated scenario where fat tissue must be the focus for reduction while avoiding any muscle tissue loss. The training strategy becomes a little more complex.

We know that in terms of metabolism, exercise at lower intensities utilise fat as fuel more effectively than high intensity exercise. The main drawback is that in terms of time efficiency it takes a relatively long period to burn sufficient calories. The other issue is that low intensity work can promote adaptations that are not so favourable for an athlete. Long periods of low intensity (LSD) training can promote a conversion of type 2 muscle fibers into fibres which more resemble the characteristics of type 1 muscle fibers. The athlete runs the risk of losing strength, speed and power. So this method must be used sparingly.

High intensity training has been touted as the magic pill for fat loss and performance in recent literature. Calorie expenditure is higher for a given work period and metabolism is elevated in the post training period. Sessions must, however be shorter as they will be more demanding. It is in this post training period where an elevated metabolism and active oxidative system plays its role in metabolising fatty acids. HIT may also promote strength, power and conditioning through a number of adaptive responses. At first glance this seems to be the obvious choice. As with most training methods it carries its disadvantages. By focusing on HIT we become reliant on the Glycolytic system during exercise. This system utilises carbohydrate metabolism and is always active even at rest when the oxidative system is dominant. Over time an athlete may promote the use of carbohydrates during metabolism which will in fact spare fat cells. If they do not consume enough carbohydrates there can also be a reduction in lean tissue as muscle cells do not get enough energy to survive.

The best strategy is to utilise both methods in an appropriate fashion. LSD can be made more effective in reducing fat and improving fat oxidisation by adding fasted LSD sessions into a program. Done before breakfast or immediately following a training session, enzymes active in fat oxidation must up-regulate to compensate for glycogen depletion. This means that less time is needed to initiate fat oxidation. HIT should then be performed in a fuelled state in a separate session to make use of its benefits. When both types of sessions are used in a balanced way that does not impede the athletes recovery, they can see all the benefits while negating the disadvantages.

As with most strategies a balance is required for optimum results. The body is exceptional at adapting to stress. Overemphasising one method over another will only display short lived success and may create problems in the long run. In the case of managing body weight and body mass a strategy must be formulated to suit the needs of the individual. A gradual and monitored approach is best for achieving long term and consistent results.

Carbs and competition.

First off, I am not a dietician, nutritionist or even self proclaimed food guru. There are plenty of folk out there willing to preach about what you should and should not eat but that’s not my area. I am purely going to focus on the role of carbohydrate in sporting performance. Quite recently there has been large debate over carbohydrate in our diets. The “Health and Fitness revolution” has given rise to an enormous amount of conflicting information. People very easily fall for the latest fitness trends in search of the magic pill! The role of carbohydrate in human performance is pretty simple, it is fuel! Lately we have seen a large amount of athletes at the performance lab attempting to eat paleo. While I don’t have an issue with the paleo concept we have noticed that their diet, while rich in fruit and vegetables, is still generally quite low in carbohydrate as a nutrient. Paleo foods tend not to be very carb dense in comparison to other sources which they have now eliminated from their diet. As a result their performance tends to suffer somewhat. Dr. Loren Cordain one of the founders of the paleo diet concept also states this concern quite clearly in his work. We go to great lengths, explaining to athletes why carbohydrates are so important in their diet. That will be the focus of this post.

The Science

As most of you are aware the body uses three main energy systems. Glycolysis is the system which deals with carbohydrate as it uses glucose to generate ATP. At low intensity exercise the oxidative (Aerobic) system is most active. At increasing intensity larger motor units become active. These motor units tend to be glycolytic in nature (Anaerobic). These consume glucose which is sourced either from the bloodstream or stores known as glycogen. Once glucose and glycogen stores are depleted higher intensity cannot be maintained. This translates to a reduction in power output and speed. It is therefore important that an athlete has an adequate amount of glycogen stored prior to competition to maintain performance. Athletes will try to develop their oxidative system in an attempt to preserve glycolytic fuel stores. Fat stores contain more energy. The longer they can run on fat for energy the less glycogen they will use. The mistake people make is in thinking there is a distinct switch between fuels and energy systems. This is not the case. At all times all three systems are active but one will be more dominant. For this reason all systems must be considered in terms of diet and training. The nature of their sport will influence the nature of an athletes metabolism.

Game sports

rugby world cup 2011 NEW ZEALAND ARGENTINA

Image: rugby world cup 2011 NEW ZEALAND ARGENTINA by Jeanfrancois Beausejour

The level of intensity varies greatly in team sports. Depending on position there can be an extremely varied utilisation of one energy system or another. Glycolysis is however generally very active throughout game scenarios in team sports. Numerous studies have examined carbohydrate supplementation during a games. The supplementation groups showed a better maintenance of speeds and a greater distance covered in the later stages of a game than the non supplementation groups. In addition to this other studies have shown in soccer that better performing teams cover larger distances per game than poorer performing teams of the same league. It is pretty clear that carbohydrate is quite an important factor in performance.

Endurance sports

Photo Chris McCormack https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Photo Chris McCormack
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Endurance sports are a little more interesting as the success of an endurance athlete is heavily related to fuel management and efficiency. A successful endurance athlete will dedicate a large amount of training time aimed at increasing oxidative capacity. This allows them to stay aerobic for longer essentially preserving glycogen. They aim to be as effective as possible at utilising fat metabolism. This will allow them to save glycogen for periods where they need to call on larger motor units. In short they try to use glycolysis only when they need to maintain a higher pace. The length of their event will determine the pace they wish to maintain and therefore the reliance on glycolysis and carbohydrate as a fuel source.

I will not mention individual foods or diets as I think that is mostly down to individual preference. The point I want to stress is that carbohydrate plays a very important role in performance for nearly all sports. It is important for an athlete to understand that role and not neglect it. They must choose a nutritional strategy that best suits the requirements of their given sport. At the end of the day their performance will reflect wether their diet is good for them or not!